Just one week ago the new female peregrine, Carla, appeared on camera at the Cathedral of Learning. Since then she and the resident male, Ecco, have been courting every day, sometimes as often as 10 times a day, and Carla has shown an interest in the scrape.
Now that these two are a permanent couple how do we tell them apart? Here are some tips for comparing and identifying each bird.
Banded: The easiest clue is that Carla is banded and Ecco is not.
Coloration: Carla’s chest has tiny dark flecks. Ecco’s chest is pure white.
Carla’s back is nearly uniform charcoal brown while Ecco’s back shows light-dark contrast between his paler gray back and black wingtips and tail.
Size: Male peregrines are 1/3 smaller than females. Carla is always the bigger bird as shown in photo at top. Compared to Ecco, Carla’s body is longer and she is bulkier. If only one bird is on camera, compare it to the size of the nestbox or camera view.
And now we’re ready for a quiz. See if you can identify who is who.
The more we watch Carla and Ecco the better we’ll get at identifying them.
The new female peregrine, Carla(*), has been at the Cathedral of Learning for only a few days but is quickly becoming acquainted with the territory and her new mate Ecco. Yesterday they made courtship flights around the building and bowed at the nest several times.
Though it seems late in the season to start nesting, the snapshot camera shows Carla exploring the nest and the pair’s interest in each other. (The slides repeat automatically.)
#1. Ecco calls to Carla, “Come down from the nestbox roof.” When she doesn’t, he leaves and she asks him to come bow.
Carla poses while sunbathing in front of the snapshot camera, 17 May at noon.
In Sunday’s update I explained that Morela was very ill when she disappeared last Friday and said: “If Morela is gone a new female will come to the Cathedral of Learning to be Ecco’s mate.” Well, that didn’t take long! A new female peregrine showed up at 2:00pm and displayed her bands. I already know where she came from.
Yesterday was so warm and sunny that Ecco sunbathed for 90 minutes at midday. Then at 2:00pm a new female peregrine showed up and sunbathed for half an hour. (See slideshow at end.)
She periodically looked at the sky as she stretched her legs and wings. Amazingly she aimed her color band at the camera!
Female peregrine Black/Blue S/07 was banded on 5/18/2020 at nest on a building at One Summit Square, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
From her photos she looks paler than Morela to me and her face is different.
Will she stick around? We’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile here’s a slideshow of her from a different angle.
(*) HISTORY AT THIS NEST SITE: In 2014 Dorothy was egg bound, looked very sick (photo at the link) and then passed the egg and was well enough to lay eggs the next year. As of this writing on 1 May, Morela does not look sick like Dorothy did.
Yesterday morning I was sure Morela was going to lay an egg but when Ecco brought her breakfast she left the nest for two hours. At 9:40am she tried laying again for 90 minutes but no egg. All afternoon it was Ecco on the green perch, not Morela, as you can see in the timelapse video below, 7am-7pm.
She returned to the nest at 8:22pm but did not lay last night.
This morning at 5:00am Ecco was back at his vigil on the green perch (photo at top). As of this moment (7:45am) he’s been back and forth to the perch but Morela still hasn’t come.
I don’t know what’s going on but it’s now so late in April that I think a challenger is unlikely.
Meanwhile most of the region’s peregrine pairs are on eggs. This update will be brief.
Cathedral of Learning, Univ of Pittsburgh:
Ecco has been doing everything he can to prompt Morela to lay eggs, including bringing her tasty morsels for every meal. On 13 April he stored a woodcock on Dr. Alan Juffs’ air conditioning unit and returned to pick it up.
The pair bows frequently. In this photo he seems to be saying, “Please, Morela.”
This 24-hour timelapse video from 21-22 April shows how often they bow and that Morela is spending the night at the scrape. We are all … all … waiting.
On 14 April Jeff Cieslak photographed a nest exchange Downtown on Third Avenue. Yes, one is still the brown bird I saw earlier in April. Jeff photographed the other one, too, and found out it’s banded. No reading on the bands yet.
Eckert Street near McKees Rocks Bridge, Ohio River:
At Eckert Street Jeff photographed a nest exchange on 13 April and the male attacking a red-tailed hawk on 10 April keeping the area safe. Yup. On eggs.
West End Bridge, Ohio River:
New peregrine site! Jeff staked out the West End Bridge until he confirmed a pair is lurking there.
One of the birds is banded! Again no read on the bands yet.
Jeff made a map of where to watch.
Westinghouse Bridge, Turtle Creek:
John English photographed a peregrine snoozing on 16 April. We think this pair is still on eggs.
Clairton Coke Works, Monongahela River:
NO PEREGRINES HERE. Last week Dana Nesiti found out that despite many checks on the quench tower no peregrines are nesting at USS Clairton Coke Works.
For all the news and sightings, check out this summary.
After reporting on the peregrine drama last Wednesday in Downtown Pittsburgh I went there on Thursday 6 April to investigate. There were no peregrines at Gulf Tower but in just 15 minutes of watching at Third Avenue I saw two peregrines and a possible nest exchange. The departing bird was normal adult color (gray & white) and did a territorial flappy flight as it left. The arriving bird was very dark chocolate brown like the bird in Ann Hohn’s photo on 3 April.
If this pair is on eggs, the arriving bird’s behavior did not match an incubating female. Instead of quietly moving to the nest the arriving bird called loudly for several minutes. It sounded like “Hey, come back!”
When I mentioned this on Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook page, Jeff Cieslak remarked: “I’d say that’s pretty good news. But it does raise some questions, neither of the birds I saw on 3/3 were brown.” Here’s the peregrine pair Jeff photographed a month ago.
Correction as of early June 2023: The dark bird is not immature, just dark, and is the mother bird at Third Avenue. … The Theory below is based on incorrect information.
Aha! So the immature bird is an intruder. The quick exit of the adult bird Downtown is like Terzo’s reaction in 2016 when female intruders visited the Cathedral of Learning. Terzo always left quickly and the intruder female always remained at the nest. Adult females were silent but an immature female called loudly. (See this vintage article: Juvenile Female Intruder at Pitt on 8 April 2016.)
Why didn’t the Downtown adult peregrines attack? Peregrine falcon literature says that immature plumage protects young birds from attacks by territorial adults because they aren’t perceived as a threat. Young peregrines won’t breed until they have adult plumage at two years old(*).
… end of bad theory …
In this attack at CVNP/I-80, photographed by Chad+Chris Saladin, Chris explains that the adult male is not brutal to the one-year-old, partly because she’s female and partly because she’s immature.
Yet these one year-old peregrines are disrupting nests. Are they trying to claim territory? Are they thinking about nesting?
Sara Showers reminded me of an article I wrote in 2020: “A year or two ago, it was pointed out to me that one of the factors that causes falcon populations to plateau at the “carrying capacity” isn’t just a finite food supply. When populations are very high, constant competition over nesting sites can cause those contested sites to not produce chicks in a given year – restricting population growth.”
Read about the Home Wrecker phenomenon in this 2020 article, written when Ecco was the young “intruder” and nesting failed that year.
(*) A note from Chris Saladin: “We’ve had 2 females successfully breed when they were just 1 year old, though it certainly isn’t common.”
(blue sky fight photos by Chad+Chris Saladin, adult peregrines at Third Ave by Jeff Cieslak, immature peregrine at Gulf Tower Ann Hohn)